Senior Housing: The Emotional Side of Moving Your Elderly Parent
Be it ever so humble, there's no place like home. Our home is our castle - a shelter from the storm. These old sayings and many more indicate how most of us emotionally view our home.
For most of us, the feeling is less about how large or how fancy a home is than about it being a place where we belong. Many of us, after getting out of the house we were so anxious to leave as young adults, still find ourselves lovingly attached to the humble dwelling of our childhood.
Now, place yourself in the shoes of your aging mother who has lived in that home since you were a child. It's a modest place, and your parents could have afforded better, but they stayed because they liked the neighborhood. Now, Dad's gone and Mom can't handle the house. She needs something that is easier for her to move around in. She could use more company. One day she'll likely need nursing care for her diabetes.
You know that a "wise" decision would be for her to move to assisted living. There's a nice one not too far away, and they are associated with a good nursing home. However, how do you approach Mom? You are attached to the house, too, so you know on one level how hard this will be for her. But you also care about her health and safety. You go back and forth in your head. You talk it over with your husband and check with friends who have gone through the same thing.
You decide that it's best to bring up the subject to Mom on a day when living in the house is not going so well. Perhaps a day when there are plumbing problems or when she has to pay a hefty bill for lawn care. That's smart. It gives you an opening where you can say, "Mom, I know it's hard to think of moving, but we both know that this isn't a safe place for you. Even with modifications, you won't be able to stay here long. How about us taking some afternoons to explore housing options?"
Mom balks at first, of course, but you are pretty sure that her biggest dread is how to get from point A (this house) to point B (the new place). Moving is daunting to many of us because we have to, well, move. We have to move everything we've hung onto for years. We have to figure out what to do with that huge china closet from Uncle George that fits perfectly under the stairwell. We have to figure out what to do with Dad's miniature train collection. We have to figure out what to do with the symbols that represent a life lived. What to keep? What to get rid of? And how do we carry out the process?
Dealing with Moving an Aging Parent to Senior Housing
There are professional movers who specialize in elder moves. They can help take some of the emotional pain out of the practical part of packing up and moving. But first you have to decide where Mom should live.
I took my mother to several assisted living facilities. We explored and discussed where she would put the things she could keep. You know, to make the transition easier. I tried to keep her thoughts on the future more than the past. This is not an easy task, especially when we ourselves have some emotions to overcome. But talking a great deal about creating a new, comfortable living space that accommodates her needs, while it incorporating as many of her old favorites as possible, generally helps. If your Mom likes new things, this is the time to talk about a new couch that will fit into a special nook in the new place. The whole thing is about the present and the future, while respecting the past.
I'm not saying that it's easy. A move from a home one has lived in for decades is often as hard as a funeral. It's a bit easier for someone who has done it in steps as my parents did. I didn't have to talk Mom into a move from an actual home that meant a great deal, because she and Dad had downsized earlier, but many people do have this challenge. However, even with Mom there were many items that had been in the family for decades, or even generations, that would never fit in even the nicest assisted living apartment.
The decision factor finally proved too much. She strung it out and then cancelled, at the last possible moment, the place she had chosen. Mom stayed where she was, with me running the route several times a day and during night emergencies, until she had no choice but a nursing home. And truthfully, that may have been the best answer in her case, as the time for a nursing home came sooner than we'd expected and Dad was already there.
To complicate all of this "what is best for Mom" business is the nagging feeling many of us adult children have that we should see if Mom would be better off living with us. While actually making that happen is a highly individual decision that should be carefully considered, taking in the needs of all affected parties, it is one that occurs to many of us as maybe the "right" option, leading to a certain amount of guilt over even thinking about the option of assisted living or a nursing home.
Where to go? What is the best decision for Mom? What is the best decision for the long term? How do you bring moving up at all? How do you overcome the fact that she always said she never wanted to "end up in a nursing home?"
These questions are all there staring you in the face when Mom's home is no longer, for her, a safe shelter from the storms of life. There's no way around the fact that making a move to any type of senior housing is an open declaration that our parent is aging. They must accept it and so must we. The move is physical proof, and that hurts.
But what must be done eventually gets done. We bring up the possibility of a move when Mom is having a tough day where she lives. We address the amount of help we will be able to give. We stress that we are still there for her, but there will be more people in the new place who can help. We take her to as many places as possible and let her have as much say in the move as we can. We adjust. She (generally) adjusts. Many people are happier after they have settled in. But the process is hard.
There's just no way to slide around this process. This is where another old saying applies. The only way out is through. Moving from a person's own home to a care facility of any kind is emotional. Concentrating on the new place, while accepting that making such a move involves mourning the past, helps some. Acknowledge her pain as well as your own. If you and your elder are struggling too much, get third party help. Often a close friend, a pastor, priest or Rabbi – or even a paid counselor – can help you both through this minefield by offering support and fresh ideas to help you both look to the future as you mourn the past.